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Sleeping bag vs quilt. A quilt is basically an open-back sleeping bag designed to be used in conjunction with a sleeping pad. That little bit of material and insulation trimmed off the back helps to reduce the overall weight. When you are laying in a sleeping bag and the back is compressed against the ground, that compressed area has little R value (effective insulation). The sleeping pad is what provides most of the insulation from the ground, therefore that section trimmed off the back of a quilt is not really missed. Due to their lighter weight and versatility (some would also say they’re more comfortable) the backpacking quilt is a very popular option. This popularity has also lead them to be a more costly option, even though less material is used to make them. The weight savings is not huge, so if you are on a budget, a good mummy bag is still a great option. A mummy bag is tapered (again reducing material and weight) and it has a hood which can be pulled over the head to provide additional insulation in cold conditions.


Most of the spring summer and fall, I use a 25 degree down-filled mummy bag. If it's super cold, I may wear heavier layers to sleep in and pull the hood up over my head. In warmer temperatures, I will unzip it allowing more heat to escape and use it kind of like a quilt. Remember that the temperature rating on most sleeping bags is a survivable temperature, not an ideal sleeping temperature for that bag. I would not use my 25 degree bag in 25 degree temperatures. Forty is about as cold as I go with it, 32 with warmer layers on.

Another thing to consider is the fill material: down vs synthetic. Down will provide a much better weight to insulation ratio, but it requires slightly more delicate care, is more expensive and loses its R-value if it gets wet. Synthetics are typically heavier and do not compact as well, but are better at retaining their R-value if they get wet. Many companies now have products on the market which help their down products to stand up to moisture better, but for the most part the synthetic still outperforms it when wet.

For the sleeping pad, there are once again many options but, they come down to three basic designs: foam pad, inflatable and self-inflating. I would recommend the foam pad or the inflatable over the self-inflating. Any of the self-inflating pads that I’ve seen just simply aren’t worth messing with. The simple foam pad is going to be lighter and more comfortable than the self-inflating. Which is saying something because the biggest drawback to a foam pad is that it doesn’t really provide much cushion when compared to an inflatable pad. You can get a foam pad that is super light and will provide some insulation from the ground for pretty cheap (Therm-a-Rest classic $20).

An inflatable pad will cost more and will tend to be heavier than say, a Therm-a-rest Z light pad, but it will provide much more cushion and be more comfortable. In addition to the added weight and cost, another drawback to the inflatable pad is that you need to be prepared to patch punctures. They are inevitable and a puncture can quickly turn the most comfortable sleep system into the least comfortable sleep system in a hurry. I’ve found that the added cost, weight and risk of puncture are worth it when compared to the benefit of getting a much better nights sleep, though. Therm-a-rest Neoair ($189)is a classic go to for many or the Klymit Static V ($40-$75) is a cheaper alternative (guess which one I have). Actually, Angela and I both have a Klymit as well as a Klymit double for when we go just the two of us. I have experimented with no name ones off of Amazon, but have found that they just don’t last and also tend not to take a patch well.


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